Texas A&M reports that the majority of America’s dairy workers are immigrants:
Nearly 77,000 immigrants worked on dairy farms in 2014 out of about 150,000 employees nationwide, according to a Texas A&M study for the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).
The study, which updates an earlier survey, indicates that the number of immigrants working on dairy farms rose by about 35 percent in six years.
Dairy farms that employ immigrant workers now account for 79 percent of all U.S. milk production [Philip Brasher, “Dairy Farmers Increase Reliance on Immigrant Labor,” Agri-Pulse, 2015.09.09].
Only 33.7% of dairies use immigrant labor, but those dairies are the larger dairies that produce more of America’s milk.
The Texas A&M survey shows that the average dairy farm wage is $11.34 an hour. They average 54 hours per week. Add non-wage benefits, and dairy workers are drawing an average $34,443 a year. At dairies that hire immigrants, the average wage is $11.69 an hour and the average total compensation is $35,538. That slight advantage could refute Donald Trump’s assertion that immigrants are “taking our jobs“: having to pay higher wages indicates that dairy owners are compensating for a lack of local labor. The researchers suggest that the slightly higher pay could reflect more experience and skill among immigrant workers. But that compensation advantage could simply reflect the deeper pockets of the larger dairy companies that rely more on immigrant labor, as well as the possibility that dairies relying on immigrants may more often provide company housing, which would inflate the value of total compensation. (54.5% of respondent dairies offer housing to workers; the survey did not break that amount down by immigrant-reliant dairies vs. non-immigrant-reliant.)
As we discussed last April, 50 percent to 70 percent of the country’s agricultural workers may be here illegally. Dairy farmers hiring immigrants are not blind to that possibility:
Farmers revealed a low to medium level of confidence in the employment documents of the immigrant employees at their dairies with 38.9 percent indicating a low level of confidence and 32.1 percent indicating a medium level of confidence…. As a result, a majority of dairy farmers indicated that they had a relatively high level of concern with respect to actions such as raids or employee audits [Flynn Adcock, David Anderson, and Parr Rosson, “The Economic Impacts of Immigrant Labor on U.S. Dairy Farms,” Center for North American Studies, Texas A&M University, prepared under contract for National Milk Producers Federation, August 2015].
But do the National Milk Producers want the feds to crack down on illegal immigration à la Trump? Heck, no! If an audit of employment documents deprived the dairy industry of half of its immigrant labor force (and the Texas A&M survey avoids mentioning the term “illegal” in its economic analysis), we’d seriously upset the cheese cart:
Deport half of those immigrant dairy workers, shut down 6% of our dairies, reduce milk production 12%, and raise milk prices 45.2%. Double those numbers, and you get the net impact of that immigrant dairy workforce.
The dairy industry uses this information to bang a drum we’ve heard before: they want Congress to reform immigration policy now!
“This report reinforces the urgent need for Congress to address” immigration reform, said Jim Mulhern, NMPF’s president and chief executive officer.
“Farms that rely on hired foreign workers need their current labor force as well as an effective program to ensure an adequate future workforce. And the way to do that is to enact comprehensive immigration reform” [Brasher, 2015.09.09].
Hmm, I wonder if any of those Syrian refugees would like to come work at South Dakota’s dairies. Syria’s dairy industry grew significantly in the last generation. Syrian dairies, like the rest of the economy amidst civil war and ISIS madness, has suffered serious losses in the last few years, so it wouldn’t be surprising to find a few dairy experts among those refugees that some South Dakotans are afraid to take in. I’ll bet big dairy would love to invite some of those expert refugees into our I-29 dairy corridor.
We can build Trump’s wall, or we can have cheaper milk. According to the immigrant-reliant dairy industry, we can’t have both.